On October 17th the UN invites us to celebrate “Poverty Eradication Day”. An organisation with headquarters in Denmark, called the Copenhagen Consensus Centre ranks the smartest solutions to the world’s biggest problem by cost-benefit.
Mr. Bjorn Lomborg, the President of this organisation, had an article published in “The Daily Star” on Monday March 14, 2016. Their organisation had a project, “Bangladesh Priorities” which examined a range of different possibilities for the country. Two of its economists Munshi Sulaiman of BRAC International and Farzana Misha of Erasmus University Rotterdam examined three of the most important ways to tackle poverty in Bangladesh.
The first strategy was cash transfers. They found that per recipient household every Tk. 100 spent did just Tk. 80 of good. The 2nd strategy was to give people a livelihood boost so they could prosper on their own. The return on spending devoted to this effort was merely one-to-one. Another way out of poverty and the most promising of the three examined is what is called graduation. Assistance in the form of money, assets, and financial and social support allows participants to “graduate” out of extreme poverty over a set timeframe. Though costs of such a programme are relatively expensive, graduation programmes increase recipients’ incomes by at least one-third. Each Taka spent on graduation programmes in Bangladesh does Tk. 2 of social good.
Experience of Poverty Eradication Programme (PEP):
Poverty Eradication Programme (PEP) is a national NGO, formerly named Institute of Integrated Rural Development (IIRD), which believes that the research of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre is founded on reality. In 9 upazilas of four districts where PEP has been working (Bogra, Netrokona, Kishoreganj and Chandpur), PEP has established and has been implementing this model, beginning in two unions of Dhunot upazila in 1986 and, as of 2015, expanding to 75 unions of 9 upazilas.
From 1986 to 1995, emphasis was on building up the poverty eradication model and the implementing teams of local workers. From 1996-2015, in PEP’s working areas, 55,941 families (279,705 persons) graduated from poverty. Perhaps a maximum of 20% of these families mainly achieved graduation from poverty through their own efforts or from assistance given by other NGOs or government. From internal monitoring and studies, PEP is confident that at least 80% of the graduates progressed mainly through PEP’s own activities and assistance. The two charts below show graduate survey numbers from 9 upazilas from 1996 to 2015.
The 2nd chart is a comparison between the percentage of poor families in the original survey in each of the 9 upazilas and the percentage of poor families as of 2015. It will easily be noted that the older working areas have achieved greater numbers of graduates and reduced poverty by higher percentages than the newer working areas.
PEP has built up its own field management and implementation teams in each area. Each team is composed of local young men and women who have worked over many years and some of whom are basically committed for life to help the poor of their local areas. They receive moderate salaries, based on responsibility they assume and their performance. But always they are considered as semi-volunteers who contribute part salary for the poor.
Likewise, PEP works in close coordination with local government – both civil and elected personnel – local professionals and elite, who donate land, fund and free service. Total amount and value of land donated till now has been 9.53 acres land valued at BDT 28,400,000 (estimated). The poor also contribute mainly through providing time and effort, but also financial contributions towards activities from which they benefit directly such as sanitary latrines and drinking water tube wells.
Although there are many awareness and skill trainings for the poor, there is a unit social worker who visits the home and discusses needs, current problems of the family and keeps them linked to PEP’s resources and assistance. Even new social workers carry with them a list of every poor family in their unit and the category of poverty ranging from extreme hard core poor to less poor in four categories.
Programmes and Activities of PEP:
PEP’s strategy for development is people-centred as contrasted to the programme-centred approach of many NGOs and many government programmes. Efforts are concentrated on the hard core poor, often denoted as ultra poor. 80% assistance for the poor is provided to them and 20% to the two categories of less poor. To give these families an improved social base in their locality, there are activities for emergency food, sanitation, drinking water, housing improvement, child education and nutrition. Up to December 2016, the poor have received 40,991 sanitary latrines, 2,491 tube wells, including 203 arsenic-free wells, 10,765 tin-roofed houses and 8,727 housing repairs. 92,441 children of the poor have entered/completed the Child Development Centre (CDC) two-year primary education and nutrition project.
Other Social Support Programmes:
Hospitals/clinics/integrated health care programme/ micronutrient project/street children:
PEP has developed a model integrated health care programme that it hopes to re-establish/establish in its 4 districts. Funding is needed for 5 years after which the project becomes self-reliant in each area. A rural hospital was functioning for several years in the far south of Dhunot upazila of Bogra, a clinic in Sherpur of Bogra, a clinic in Nikli in Kishoreganj and a clinic is continuing in Rouha union in Netrokona. A two-storey hospital has been established and is operating to serve people in a haor area in the north of Barhatta; it also serves the poor in portions of Kalmakanda upazila.
Except for the hospital, the IHCP model functions mainly with paramedics and women health care workers who receive 3 months’ training provided by Gonoshasthaya Kendra. Doctors assist usually once a week and referrals are provided to local government and private hospitals. Non-poor families pay regular fees and cost of medicines and poor families have subsidised rates according to their degree of poverty.
From 2014 PEP began receiving free micronutrients (vitamin-A capsules, anti-worm medicine and multivitamins for pregnant, nursing women and under-5 children). In 2017, PEP has extended this programme to other areas of rural Bangladesh through 9 NGO partners with 11 more to join the programme in 2018.
This year, PEP has also been implementing eye camps in its Netrokona and Bogra areas and with 2 partner NGOs in Bagerhat and Pabna. 5 of 7 eye camps have so far allowed for 1,237 persons get medicines for their various eye problems, 979 persons to get spectacles, 225 for cataract operations, 19 persons get DCR operations, persons get DCT operations and 13 for Pterygium operations.
From 2014, PEP began assisting the street children in the environs of its office in the Mohammadpur Town Hall and Bus Stand area. Children play football early; then they have a simple breakfast at a Town Hall tea stall. They get medical help as needed and winter clothing. There is an education project after the breakfast on Fridays and Saturdays. There are also occasional picnics or cultural experience days. Children from the nearby Geneva Camp also join for the breakfast and education components.Under its umbrella of economic activities, PEP assists the poor to maximise benefit from their homesteads and small agricultural plots in order to improve family nutrition and income. Landless families are assisted both to rent agricultural land on favourable terms and even provided land of 3-10 decimals purchased for them for homestead and cultivation.
Recently, PEP has established partnership with Agricultural Research Centre (ARF) and Harvest Plus for cultivation of zinc bio-fortified rice varieties. Government khas lands are obtained with help of local people and government. These are developed into productive fisheries; families are resettled there and eventually become owners of the projects.
An area of 25 acres and another of 28 acres were also purchased inexpensively by PEP with local assistance for resettling 79 and 75 totally landless families. In the former project, each family is receiving 18 decimals ownership deed. So far 154 families had been resettled on khas lands and PEP’s own two beels purchased lands. Another 256 families have received ownership of 2-10 decimals.
Livestock and poultry rearing are other economic activities which can rapidly improve even the poorest families’ condition. For the poorest two categories, PEP arranges grant for purchase of the animals after providing training and support services. For the less poor two categories, credit at 5% interest helps these families also to more quickly move towards graduation. Cattle rearing, both for milk and meat, goat/sheep rearing, family poultry units as well as commercial broiler rearing have all been implemented by PEP. Till December 2016, PEP has provided 16,084 cattle, 15,150 goats/sheep, 61,648 family poultry/duck units and 663 commercial broiler units.
Another sector of the economy, which is critical for the environment and through which PEP has greatly assisted the poor, is forestry. There has been plantation of 653 kms of timber trees on both sides of rural roads. 15 poor families have become owners on every one km. Till now 9,795 poor families have received Tk. 46,427,528 from their 60% ownership, while the government units owning each road receive 20% coming to BDT 15,475,843 and PEP, the remaining amount of BDT 15,475,843. In addition, the poor have received 2,140,060 fruit and timber saplings for plantation at their homesteads. For each sapling, they contribute a token amount to a Village Development Fund (VDF) and become owners of these saplings. For each kilometre of roadside plantations, a most poor person (usually a woman) gets 3 years employment, saving a portion of salary to invest in an economic asset that will help her family after three years.
Other employment projects for the poor:
PEP has built up a sericulture project, which a World Bank study rated as the best in Bangladesh on most quality components; size of some components exceeded PEP’s, such as members involved, size of training facilities, etc. PEP employed up to 1,500 poor women from the mulberry tree caretakers to women charka and reeling activities to handloom cloth production. The largest number employed was in Bogra, with many also in Netrokona and a small number in Kachua. Rie Makita, a Japanese researcher studied the sericulture, broiler rearing and inland fishery projects in Dhunot upazila for a few months.
Her work was published in book form by UPL under the title “Livelihood Diversification and Landlessness in Rural Bangladesh”, in 2007.
Various small industries have been in operation for a few years providing poor women employment and income. These included a lozenge production/marketing unit, 2 village bakeries, a chanachur industry and laundry soap making units. Small industries which are presently continuing include chalk production, Nari Garments in Netrokona, mosquito net, leather goods, quilt and mattress production and marketing. An ice-cream factory also more recently began operating in Kachua in Chandpur.
Inland fishery has been promoted through development of private ponds which were given by the land owners to PEP for 10 years. 672 private ponds were excavated and 2,688 poor families cultivated fish in the 8 khas ponds and two PEP beels where 154 families were resettled and received a portion of income from fish cultivation. More recently, PEP has discussed with World Fish, the possibility of becoming their partner in the future.
For the poor, vegetable gardening and fruit tree cultivation often bring greater financial returns; they also improve family nutrition. PEP also has a very fine tissue culture laboratory in Sherpur upazila of Bogra. Some disease-free seed is also provided to the poor at subsidised rates.
This tissue culture laboratory has produced a total of 819,565 kilograms of seed-potatoes since its establishment; 60% of these products were sold to the farmers with marginal profit and 40% were sold to the PEP target families at a subsidised price. The varieties of these seeds were mostly cardinal and diamond. So far, 157 acres of lands were used by the organization for producing potatoes.
PEP understands that if the local areas of its 9 upazilas have weak social and economic systems, a commitment has to be made to assist so that the areas themselves become more just, vibrant and dynamic. PEP has constructed two important flood protection embankments, and several irrigation canals, built a few bridges and drainage culverts as well as several earthen link roads.
One of PEP’s main priorities is to help local economies become more balanced and productive. Diversification of crop plantation, improvement of soil quality and promotion of sectors of the economy, which are underdeveloped in various areas, requires assistance. Besides assisting agriculture, PEP promotes livestock, inland fishery, forestry and a diversification of small industries. By graduating large numbers of poor families from ultra poor to less poor and by many completely overcoming poverty, local business, transport, education and health sectors all receive increased income from those who now can afford the extra cost.
Where to go from here?
“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”
Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa
It’s nice to celebrate one day in the year to honour this human right that doesn’t presently exist for one billion people in the world today. It is also encouraging to have the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proclaim the first two goals as zero poverty and zero hunger. However, with excess in so many people’s lives—excess of money, food, pleasure and possessions, can’t we do more for the one billion left behind?
PEP has developed a special model of poverty eradication. We are ready to share this free-of cost to any development practitioners, researchers or others who want to look more closely at the reality of what is claimed, or want to learn how they can also implement this model elsewhere. If interested, please contact: S.M. Mujibur Rahman, Executive Director,
Poverty Eradication Programme (PEP). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Mobile: +880-2-9120435.
The writer is the Founder & Voluntary Consultant of PEP.